The missing link between images & buying online

There is a drive for online shopping to replicate the experiences that customers have when they shop in a store environment. Real-life shopping is a highly visual and sensory process, which is a challenge to replicate within digital channels. But clues on how this can be achieved sit with the understanding of how a customer actually shops.

Images play a crucial role in this digital shopping experience, not least because they are the best way to cost effectively represent the actual products that are for sale. But images can also play a much broader role in linking the web experience with a consumer’s natural preferences for different types of information earlier on in the shopping process. Used in the right way, they also help a brand to communicate other aspects such as quality, innovation and value, so in this sense images can reassure a potential consumer that this purchase is the right one for them.

So, when a consumer embarks on a purchase, they generally fall into two broad categories:

1. A distress purchase – when something has broken or worn out, etc.. and needs an urgent replacement
2. A planned purchase. A less urgent, and more pleasurable/indulgent purchase, or a considered purchase for a high-value item

We want to look at the second category, the planned purchase, because this is where there is the biggest difference in the mindset that a consumer moves between, from the start to the finish of the shopping process. At this point, though we should point out the starting point for this planned process, could be something that is present in the customer’s sub-conscious mind. The many messages that we are faced with on a daily basis influence us and plant seeds in our mind that send us on a journey of increasing awareness of a product, until it starts growing into the more conscious idea that we want or ‘need’ something.

As consumers move through this process they respond to different messages in different ways, and create many points of reference along this process to help them make their final decision. Importantly consumers are looking for different types of information at different points of this process.

It is these different mindsets and different types of information that digital retailers need to be aware of and evaluate their online shopping experience against how well their site, and the images within the site, cater for these stages.

Mindset changes

There is a huge change in the mindset of a consumer during the earlier stages of the purchase process, and the most notable aspect is that it is all based around emotional requirements. At this point, its not about price or the cheapest option, its about their aspirations, and crucially they have time at this point. They’re not in a rush, they want to linger over the detail.

Product imagery vs inspirational imagery

Many online retail experiences don’t cater for the inspirational and information stage of the process, either with the content, the format or the images that are used.

This may be less important to a business that also has a range of retail outlets or catalogues which can cater for these earlier stages in the purchase process, but what about a business that follows a predominantly online model?

The absence of any inspirational or richly informative image has the potential to lead to a business being only able to compete on price – not a model that every business aspires to, for obvious reasons!

Creating an image centric approach to a user experience, or a site design gives the opportunity to present a range of different types of content to support the eventual purchase of a given product on a site.

For example, many websites use 360 images on their sites to allow the user to look in detail at a particular product. 360 image views, of course have a role, but by the nature of them they offer the viewer a complete lack of inspiration. Not only this, they require the viewer to put some effort in to find all of the detail that they need.

This may be effective at the end of the purchase process, but is completely wrong for the inspirational part of the process. A more suitable set of images for the inspirational part of the purchase process would be a selection of incidental images shot in a more artistic and creative style. The brief for these would be to show the most interesting parts of a given product. Viewing this selection of images would be an easier task for the viewer, and they would get a much more impactful visual experience than the unimaginative composition required for a 360 view.

Not an expensive option

Crucially, this doesn’t necessarily mean a huge investment is required. Many 360 degree images consist of upto 32 separate images being taken and then stitched together to produce the 360 visual. Instead, all that is required is a mindset change, and taking a different approach from the norm. A different brief, with similar budget parameters could produce a much more exciting suite of images that engage the customer in a different way and encourage a more aspirational attitude to a product compared to similar competitive products.

If you think that your business could benefit from providing your customers with a more creative and distinctive photographic experience, that works on a different level to your competitors, then please get in touch with us for more detail. Please contact

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